Chances are you've a cupboard or a drawer full of plastic bags, because in Australia soft plastics can’t be recycled through most kerbside recycling services. So, what to do with them? You can't just throw them in the bin because they'll end up in landfill and take years to break down. Diverting soft plastics from landfill is one of the simplest ways to do your bit for the environment (just like reducing your food waste).
Of course, there are only so many soft plastic bags one household needs! For the rest, here's a simple guide on how to recycle soft plastics in Australia.
What are soft plastics?
First off, it’s important to be able to identify soft plastics. These items are generally the plastic bags and packaging that we get from stores. From bread bags to bubble wrap, there are many forms that soft plastic can come in. Some common items include:
- Cereal box liners
- Cling film
- Dry pet food bags
- Fresh produce and frozen food bags
- Newspaper and magazine wrap
- Rice bags
- Snap lock bags / zip lock bags
But, the list goes on, and when these items are not recycled with care they contribute to the plastic waste problem across the world.
The problem with Soft Plastics
In Australia, the majority of councils can’t accept soft plastic to recycle during kerbside collection because it clogs the sorting machines. So the plastics that aren’t recycled are sent to landfill.
Growing landfills create big problems for the environment. But on top of that, lightweight plastic bags, food wrappers and chip packets can easily fly away during transport and end up in the ocean, creating life-threatening hazards for sea life.
Where can you recycle soft plastics in Australia?
If it’s a soft plastic and scrunches up, then it can be recycled through REDcycle, a recovery program for post-consumer soft plastic. This initiative not only keeps the plastics and packaging out of landfill but our beloved beaches, rivers and parks too!
REDcycle provides a guide on what can they can accept – you can also check your packaging for the new Australian Recycling Label (ARL) or the REDcycle logo (both gradually rolling out across product packaging).
Then, simply gather all of your soft plastics and drop them into a collection bin at participating supermarkets. There are participating supermarkets across Australia, and REDcycle bins are typically located near the checkout area.
Don’t worry about rinsing your plastics before dropping them off, just make they are empty and dry!
What happens to them afterwards?
All of the collected plastics get made into something new and useful! In collaboration with three Australian owned recycling and manufacturing partners, the soft plastics are recycled into a range of new products.
REDcycle partners use the materials in a variety of ways. Replas uses recovered material to produce outdoor furniture and signage, which is often used by schools and parks. Close the Loop uses recycled soft plastics to help make road infrastructure. And, Plastic Forests remake the materials into different gardening items, such as edging, stakes, and fence posts.
Final step: Buy recycled products
It's also important to keep in mind the basic principle of recycling that REDcycle champions: “Nothing is truly recycled until it re-enters the market as a recycled-content product and someone buys it.”
So even after you've recycled that assortment of plastic bags, you can give the Earth a helping hand by buying recycled items.
Buying items made out of recycled materials builds a market for the material we discard and encourages businesses and people to truly recycle. When we don’t buy recycled items, plastics end up in landfills.